Embracing the Glory of Failing When Raising a Child With Autism

Before you can achieve anything, you fail. Not only once, but many, many times. It feels terrible. Frustration and shame almost cripple you to the point of giving up. You don’t know what’s driving you, but you just have to try it ONE more time. And again. And again.

Just when you want to quit, you’ve seemed to move through the wall, as if it has never been there in the first place. Suddenly you’re in a different place, the world is literally opening up to you. With every new try you gain more and more confidence.

Usually right after you pass the point that you think you’re the smoothest operator ever, life throws you… another brick wall. And there you go again, fearsomely failing your guts out, hammering away at this wall until your knuckles are red and raw.

I’ve become quite an excellent failer over the years. I failed my way through five languages, two master degrees, two faiths, a 26-year old and still continuing and fulfilling marriage and raising a child with autism to the point that he has healed for at least 90%.

Yes, I know that defies all odds, especially the healing of autism, which is supposed to be an incurable affliction of the human brain. But I’ve always told my son to NEVER let anyone tell him there would be no cure for him. “Maybe you’re the one who is going to find the cure”, I told those sad eight-year old eyes, until I saw them light up again with the glimmer of courage and hope.

So, it’s those last glorious set of failures I want to share with you. If you’re still in those trenches battling (and probably denying) the first diagnosis that your child has a form of autism, somewhere in that universe they call “autism spectrum”, let me tell you the good news first. They are probably right. Which means there’s a road you can travel with other people on it, as opposed to agonizing at home with your child all by yourself.

The bad news is that you will spend a great deal of your time and energy finding your way through the maze of advices and therapies, before you find anything that works. Keep at it, though. Keep hammering at that wall. Experiment and investigate. Read up and educate yourself. Talk to other parents with similar kids. It will pay off, I promise!

Our biggest breakthrough was understanding how our boy saw and experienced the world. How sounds and other stimuli would enter his brain unfiltered, making a total mess of his perceptions and emotions. How unexpected changes or exceptions to the many rules he taught himself about the world would shatter his confidence and his carefully crafted view on Reality.

We changed the harsh sounds of our voices to a calm and friendly tone, as if we were gently talking to friend. Our old tone had too often been angry and frustrated, trying to regain an ounce of control by the sheer force of our voice. We also changed our way of communicating, making sure we were always clear about our plans and expectations, taking the time to explain even the most obvious items, remembering to subtract two years of his age, when it came to his social emotional skills.

We learned to tackle most of the issues with applying 80% clarity and 20% friendliness, a simple rule of thumb that was also easily taught to teachers and others caretakers. While we were learning (or should I say failing?) in this path our respect for what our son had to battle on a daily basis became bigger and bigger.

If you ever want to learn about the glory of failing, you should study the daily lives of persons with any form of autism. They are the true champions.

Or in the words of my son — who just turned 22 years by the way and is a happy, independent trooper, living on the other side of the world with his lovely Peruvian wife and working fulltime as a game designer and 3D animator — “A day in my shoes and you would be ab-so-lu-tely exhausted.”

If you’re a parent with a child diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and want to read more of what my son and I learned as we “failed” our way through autism, you might consider becoming a paying member of Medium. I’m going to publish a series of blogs about our experiences and insights, that will be accessible only to upgraded members of Medium, starting on December 7th 2017.